Notable findings in DNA project
This letter is in response to the recent one titled “DNA milestone not necessarily breakthrough” by Stan Lenihan about the Sept. 30 Editor’s Notebook by Terry Ross which discussed the heralded breakthrough of “junk DNA” being discovered as having an actual function and purpose.
Lenihan’s response to this commentary was published Oct. 24 in which he said that this was not news and then proceeded to incorrectly describe micro RNAs and the science behind alternative splicing (RNAs are involved but not miRNA), differences in muscle proteins (not sure how the protein itself can get “stronger”), ethnic races and incoherently concluding that equality is a “commie-liberal” belief.
I do agree with Lenihan to some degree in that scientists have known for a while now that introns (non-gene coding regions) and modifications of DNA (epigenetics) are involved in the regulation of genes. In fact, not many scientists (at least the responsible ones) ever used the term “junk DNA” because most understood very early on that their role at the time was not known.
What is important about what was recently published in a number of scientific journals was the cumulation of information from the ENCODE (ENCylopedia of DNA Elements) project. This collection of data was able to assign biochemical functions for 80 percent of the genome, in particular outside of the well studied protein-coding regions providing new insights into the mechanisms of gene regulation and how diseases affect some people differently (Nature, Sept. 2012).
The ENCODE project is a direct result from the Human Genome project that was completed in 2001. Simply put the Human Genome project is a very basic map of our genes while the ENCODE project superimposes on this map the roads and paths that lead from a gene or genes to a possible disease or different developed characteristics.
This is a definitely cool and exciting milestone in science because the ENCODE project provides the rationale to sequence the whole genome of individuals with rare diseases and the ability to now see what “roads” are damaged and in need of repair. As a result treatments for these diseases may be more accurately studied and targeted.
Regarding the odd equality/commie-liberal comment, I think most of us understand there are of course physical differences between people but in the end we are all humans and that everyone (regardless of appearances) deserve the same basic rights and freedoms.
Francisco Villa, Ph.D.